Your Heart’s Desire

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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About four years ago I was working in a public library, earning $12 an hour, all while cultivating this secret online identity as a self-published author. I was writing and creating constantly but something didn’t feel right.

Writing books was challenging but it had been a long time since I’d experienced a creative growth spurt and the itch to stretch myself, to learn, to grow became agonizing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do and I went back to school.

That’s the place where you learn new things, right?

I enrolled in a graduate program, stupidly took out student loans, and studied my ass off thinking that by graduation day I’d feel like a new me. A better me.

And it worked. At least for a little while. I completed my courses, survived student teaching, and got my first teaching job. That first year was a whirlwind. Every day, I showed up an hour early and stayed an hour late. I worked in the evenings and on weekends. I truly did stretch myself, learning so much about my content area, language learners, and the public education system.

Year two was also difficult. I was never short on challenges, on opportunities to grow.

Year three and the itch returned.

What am I doing here? I mean really doing? I’m not making an impact. I’m not even making a dent. The public education system is so broken. It’s so broken that no matter who you are–teacher, student, admin–no one enters this system and comes out unscathed. We are all hurt by it. Broken in ways we can’t even see.

I was starting to feel it. The weight of all of those systemic problems I would never be able to solve. The guilt and regret of allowing fear to choose this career for me. The work I do is meaningful and I’m grateful for this experience. But I’ve learned something about this feeling–this itch for something more. It doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Just because we’re living a life that is socially acceptable, adulting on a level comparable to our peers.

That feeling doesn’t go away until we ask in earnest: who am I and why am I here? And we open ourselves up to the reality, to the truth that the answers will be much bigger and much scarier than we want them to be.

But we don’t get to choose. The second we slipped into this skin we made an agreement to have the human experience.

This is the human experience–a million acts of bravery in the direction of our soul’s desire. And maybe we don’t get to decide that either–what our soul wants. But we can’t ignore that it wants. And it will continue to want, that desire beating, throbbing like a second pulse, until we give in and listen. Then follow.

And if we don’t, that spiritual nagging doesn’t just intensify. It hurts. In the places where we are supposed to be growing and changing we will begin to atrophy. We will begin to disappear.

I don’t want to disappear.

So I’m not just seeking out opportunities to be brave. I’m creating them. That means committing to a half-baked idea on a massive scale, telling people about my plans so they can hold me accountable, and creating my own curriculum for artistic growth. I’m acknowledging old fear-based patterns and disrupting them every chance I get. I’m speaking my mind more but also listening and I’m throwing money at opportunities I don’t yet feel good enough or worthy of taking advantage of.

I am following this ache like a siren song.

But even though I’m still not certain of where it leads, I must let it lead. Because the destination is my heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even know what that is yet. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think I deserve it yet. All I need to know is that it is mine.

Mine.

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True North

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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When I think about those two big scary questions–Who am I? Why am I here?–clarity usually comes to me in flashes; in fragments I try to force together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes the burst is so bright, everything illuminated, that I feel a sense of purpose and conviction so supernatural in its potency that I know for a fact God is speaking to me. Other times, the glimpse is so brief that I feel more lost and alone than before.

Which has led me to ponder new questions: How do I find my North Star? How do I keep it in my sights through the storms, the darkness, and the doubt that follows?

For the past month these questions have consumed me and I’ve let them. Even though I’d committed to daily blogging, as long as these questions were on my mind, I felt like I didn’t know what to say. Even though I desperately wanted to finish my current WIP, as long as these questions were on my mind, the act felt useless.

Because I need to know the why.

Why was I telling this story and all the others that have been fighting for my attention lately? Why are these characters so important to me? What do I want my readers to know and feel about them? What do I want them to do with those revelations? Are there other ways I can spread my message? Am I really even clear on what that is?

Some people just want to be writers, putting out a book as often as they can, whether that’s once a year, once every two years, once every ten. Pen to page, day after day. For them, that is the work. And that is beautiful. That is admirable.

But I’ve been feeling this pull lately, this stretching of my spirit to do something…more. Not something else. Not something that isn’t still storytelling. But something more. Bigger. Greater.

For months, I’ve thought that it was my fears that were getting in the way, that my anxiety was the distraction, that my problems were caused by a lack of stamina and focus. Instead, what was getting in the way was this other voice. So faint I didn’t even realize it was there.

Maybe it wasn’t even a voice. Not in the beginning. Maybe it was more like a nudge. Move. Grow. Change. It’s okay. I am with you.

But I wasn’t listening. Because I thought I already knew the answers to those big, scary questions.

Who are you?

A writer.

Why are you here?

To tell stories.

Those answers are beautiful. They are admirable. But they are also wrong. Because they are incomplete.

Usually, when we think about our life’s purpose, we start at the macro level. We approach it with giant expectations and then we crush ourselves beneath the weight of never meeting them. If we’re a writer, we might think that we have to write a book as influential as Harry Potter. Something that cultivates the values and beliefs of an entire generation. Something that reaches the far ends of the earth. That makes us rich and famous.

But what if the key to unlocking our potential is thinking much, much smaller? Not thinking that our potential is small. Not thinking that our gifts are small. But small in the sense that we are snowflakes. That the pattern of purpose alive in me is different from the purpose that’s alive in you. That it’s the subtleties and nuance of our nature that allows us to have the greatest impact because that’s what allows us to connect with the specific people who need our gifts the most.

I think I’m starting to figure out my true gifts, and more importantly, who needs them the most. In other words, I am inching towards the real answers to those big, scary questions and as the answers loom on the horizon, I can already sense that they will be much bigger and much scarier than anything I could have ever imagined. But big and scary doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes big and scary means joy. Sometimes big and scary means freedom.

Big Scary Questions

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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There are two questions we must pursue at every stage, every crossroads, and every pain point of our lives.

Who am I? Why am I here?

These are big, scary questions, not because of the possibility that we may never find answers to them but because of the possibility that we may find answers that are just as big and scary. We are terrified of finding out we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams. Because somewhere, deep down, we already know it, and our fears, our pain, every ounce of our suffering surrounding our identities comes from regret. Our regrets about snuffing out our own greatness, of running from our destinies, of secretly wanting to be small because that’s where we think we’re most safe.

If the purpose of life was to stay safe then the Universe wouldn’t have zipped us into these flesh pockets that can be cut open and crushed, broken and bruised, burned and diseased. Instead, the Universe would have fashioned us out of something indestructible.

But walking that fine line between life and death is too important. It’s the predator lurking in the trees that makes our heart race, that spurs us forward, that forces us to run, run, run. Into the unknown. Into those big scary answers to all of our big scary questions.

Over the past month, I have been asking a lot of questions.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is that special gift that only I have and that the world so desperately needs? Why am I making art? Who am I making it for? What does my audience need? How can I use my unique skills and talents to solve their problems, to show them I care, to make the world a better place?

What I’ve discovered about myself and my meditative practice is that I love the big, scary questions. Do they terrify me? Absolutely. But rather than making me feel inadequate or insignificant, mulling over these questions has reminded me that I am neither of these things.

I am powerful. I am purposeful.

The daydreamer in me loves to ponder these things. To imagine all of the awesome ways I can use my gifts to help others. The daydreamer in me loves to visualize every detail of this potential. The daydreamer in me loves to distract me with these daydreams instead of pushing me to use them as fuel.

So, while the daydreamer in me is essential to helping me answer the big, scary questions, she is also my enemy when it comes to using those answers to take action. To live out those revelations in the here and now.

It’s not entirely her fault. My brain is an endless, awesome playground where I can easily get lost in my own ideas and innovations. It can also be a black hole of despair, the skies overhead darkening so fast that I don’t even realize there’s a storm until I’m drenched. It is a place to imagine, sure. To experiment. To test ideas. To ask those questions I want my work to help people answer. But it is not a place for building. There is no solid ground on which to construct anything real.

It’s not enough to find answers to those two big, scary questions: Who am I? Why am I here?

We must manifest the answers in the real world. We must take action and create in a tangible way that impacts people. We must live out the promises that have been planted in us, sowing the seeds of our gifts in places where those flowers can actually bloom.

Am I Doing this Right?

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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A few times over the past nine years I have tried to make writing my full-time gig. Either because of a cross-country move or a change in employment I have waded into the waters of being a full-time Creative a few weeks and a few months at a time. But eventually the uncertainty of how I was going to make enough money to pay my bills became too much and I’d get a “normal” day job with a “normal” paycheck.

The fear and stress would subside. I’d create a routine that made me feel safe, yet unfulfilled. Then that feeling of being unfulfilled would become too much and I’d start the cycle all over again, deciding to give writing full-time another shot or changing jobs to try to free up more time to write.

When I made the commitment to create an 18-month escape plan from my current iteration of reality, as well as the commitment to blog every day of this journey, I had no idea that I was starting this cycle all over again. That is how short my memory is. When the excitement of this journey finally wore off this past week and all I was left with was the anxiety of and pressure to make it happen, I instantly felt trapped. Then I reflected on other times in my life when I’ve felt trapped. Then I reflected on the fact that it’s usually me who is setting these traps.

Shortly after we moved to Dallas I didn’t look for employment for a couple of months because I wanted to finish my third novel. Back then I was still invisible and no one was buying my books. I took on a full-time job working from home so I could still write but it only paid $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough to make ends meet (or so I thought; I’m starting to learn I have a problem thinking I’m living in scarcity when I’m really not) so I found a job working nights and weekends to make up the difference. I was writing about 5k-10k a day, working from 8AM-4PM, and then shelving books at a library from 4:30PM-9PM.

I got sick. Pain from my shingles flared up again. I started getting regular migraines and suffered from vertigo that made it impossible to drive some days. I gained weight, lost weight, and gained it back again. I suffered from terrible insomnia. I saw an Internist and after running a bunch of tests he said my stress levels were off the charts.

Eventually, I found a full-time job that paid enough to cover the sixty hours I’d been working previously. My quality of life improved drastically. But once I settled into this routine it didn’t take long for me to start longing for something else. This is when I decided to become a teacher and to pay for graduate school with the money I was miraculously making from my books.

I keep going back to that decision and thinking about what would have happened if I’d made a different one. If I’d chosen to leap, if I’d chosen writing, where would I be now? Would I have built up an even bigger backlist and made even more money? Enough money to quell my fears and anxiety? Or would I have found myself broke again and worrying myself sick?

Maybe the choice I made was the right decision. Maybe a person like me with terrible anxiety needs more safety nets in place before I leap. Let’s face it, anything in the direction of my fears is a leap.

It’s okay if I have to fight for every inch. As long as I’m fighting.

That’s the difference between who I was then and who I am now. I am still anxious and afraid of the unknown. But I am no longer trying to control every aspect of my life. I am no longer going to put all of that weight and pressure on myself. I have a deadline, a goal in mind. But I’m also giving myself the time to get there at my own pace.

I keep reading about all of these brave and desperate people taking these giant leaps of faith. Quitting their jobs, travelling the world, and making big bold decisions with no idea of the how. It sounds so romantic. Something worth fighting for.

I want to be a fighter. I want to be brave. But if it takes me longer to escape my comfort zone, I’m okay with that. Progress is progress. I’m fighting for forward motion not a free fall into nothing. If I leap now and it doesn’t work out, I will use every mistake and bout of bad luck as an excuse to turn and run. If I plan for this leap, if I give myself  a finite amount of time to mentally and financially prepare, I won’t be able to give up at the slightest derailment. Because the slightest derailment will not ruin me.

I don’t know if I’m doing this right or wrong. Maybe the bigger the leap into the unknown, the greater the reward. Or maybe thinking that my journey has to look like it does in movies or the latest self-help New York Time’s bestseller is its own pitfall. The pitfall of pursuing perfection rather than truth. But perfection does not exist and truth is whatever I say it is.

This is my truth: I am trying. I am learning. I am moving in the direction of my dreams. I will stumble but I will not stop. I may be moving slow but I will not stop. I will not stop.

Mental Health Check-in

Mental Health

My ability to construct my own version of reality makes it possible for me to imagine people who don’t actually exist living detailed and nuanced lives that aren’t actually real. My affinity for living in my own head instead of in the here and now allows me to create something from nothing every time I sit down to write.

These “abilities” also make it difficult to function sometimes.

It takes practice to be present. It takes self-discipline to be still. But sometimes when my mind races I don’t know how to stop it. Even after 26 years of living with anxiety and all of the paranoia, delusions, and self-loathing that come with it. I know that voice inside my head isn’t my own–the one insisting that nothing is real or nothing is good enough. I know my fears are irrational and that all it takes is one sentence out loud or one word down on the page to expel the worst of them. But it is possible to be aware of the fallacy of your own anxiety and still be trapped in it.

So…I started seeing a counselor and even though my mind has already tried to sabotage the experience more than once I’m going to keep at it. Because I want to be in control of what my mind creates instead of that creation controlling me.